The International Longshoremen's Association (ILA) may relax its boycott of Soviet ship cargoes in response to an appeal by President Carter, but the ILA and most of the country's other unions continue firmly committed to the right of US workers to refuse to handle shipments for "enemy" countries.
Anger has been building against the Soviet union throughout most of organized labor during the Afghanistan crisis. Many unions have contended for years that the United States should not supply advanced technology and critical products to the Soviet Union even if meant turning down multi-million dollar orders that could cost some jobs.
While labor unions support the steps taken by the President to restrict shipments to the Soviets, many of them back the stronger ILA position.
Labor spokesmen are quoting George Meany, the longtime president of the AFL- CIO who passed on recently, to support the right of unions to act independently of the government in foreign matters. Mr. Meany took a firm position in a similar grain boycott in 1975, saying, "The American people should have a voice in every phase of foreign policy.
. . . As far as making foreign policy, if the labor movement could make it, I think we'd have a more viable foreign policy."
Shortly after President Carter announced that he was halting shipment of 17 million metric tons of corn and wheat to the Soviet Union, while allowing 8 million metric tons to proceed, the ILA stepped in to shut off all Soviet cargo shipments, including the grain shipments approved by Mr. Carter.
The boycott that began Jan. 9 already has prevented the shipment of more than 3 million metric tons of grain. The boycotted ports on the Atlantic seaboard, the Gulf of Mexico, and at key inland locations have had a heavy impact in the grain transportation and storage industries. Many ships are standing idle; barges and railroad grain carriers are clogged; grain elevators are generally filled to capacity.
President Carter noted this when he met with ILA and other labor officials Jan. 17 and asked the longshoremen to end their boycott as "contrary to our national interests." ILA president Thomas W. Gleason said that he would place the request before his members on Jan. 21.
Meanwhile, Mr. Carter on Jan. 19 directed the government's Commodity Credit Corporation to begin buying up the backlog of boycotted grain. The corporation can divert grain to other markets or to international food-aid programs.
When a grain boycott by the ILA threatened a massive disruption of US grains shipments to the Soviets in 1975, the union acceded to an appeal by President Ford to resume handling grain for the Soviet Union for a period of one month. The present boycott could come to a similar end with a moratorium to permit an unclogging of the grain market -- followed by a new clampdown.